Ten years later everybody's looking for Margaret Medders again. The Dallas County District Attorney is looking for Mrs Medders because he has a theft indictment in her name and would like to arrest her. "I have no idea where she is," says the frustrated attorney assigned to the case. "Have you seen her? With a reputation like hers she's bound to be spotted somewhere."
Dr. Mary Davis, an 81-year-old Memphis osteopath, also would like to know where Margaret Medders is."She took practically everything I own and I want to see her indicted in Memphis," Dr. Davis said. Dr. Davis clims she spent six months last year traveling with Margaret Medders, while Mrs. Medders spent all but $15 of her $100,000 life savings on them both and allegedly took another $50,000 of her possessions.
Dallas silver broker Carroll Sinclair declares in disgust that Margaret Medders tapped him for $12,000 last year. "Now I look at myself," he says, "and ask how stupid can I be? First time Mrs. Medders telephoned me I knew exactly who she was but she still got me. Billy Sol Estes isn't qualified to shine her shoes."
Hotels from Minnesota to Texas are also wondering where Margaret Medders is. Three of them claim to be out a total of at least $15,000.
Ten years ago some people actually thought it was funny when Margaret Medders fooled Neiman-Marcus, three banks and hundreds of unsuspecting Texas socialites. After all, where else but in Texas could an out-of-work mechanic's helper, Ernest Medders, and his wife, Margaret, pull it off? They borrowed $3 million, with no collateral, built a fabulous estate in Muenster, Tex., and stepped right into the Texas whirl of society. Their fantasy lasted five years, ending in 1967, when creditors figured out that all of the Medders' money was borrowed and that the couple had no serious income.
The creditors, led by Neiman-Marcus, immediately drove the Medders into bankruptcy.
That was supposed to be the end of the Medders' story. But last October reports began surfacing that Mrs. Medders was at it again. Apparently she had been gallivanting around the country for six months, living luxuriously on other people's money, including people like Carroll Sinclair, the Dallas silver broker.
"She telephoned me Dec. 23, 1975," Sinclar said, "in response to an ad I ran offering to buy silver. She brought about $500 worth of silver flatware by my house, which I bought. Then she began asking me for small loans, in the several hundred dollar range, to pay off some of her personal debts. If Mrs. Medders had been a young, good-looking woman, I would have figured her for a con artist," Sinclair explained. "But she wan't. Mrs. Medders is middle-aged, gray-haired and motherly looking. She claimed all of her silver was tied up in probate proceedings, and even though I knew what she had done 10 years ago, I still believed her," he said. "I wound up loaning Mrs. Medders $12,000. How dumb could I be?"
But the saddest story belongs to Dr. Davis, the Memphis osteopath. Dr. Davis had known Margaret Medders for years, she said, but hadn't really known her well until after Ernest Medders died in November 1975. Then Mrs. Medders began visiting Dr. Davis frequently, and after Dr. Davis retired early last year, the two began traveling around the country together.
"I lent her $100,000 cash, all from my savings account or my checking account," Dr. Davis said in a telephone interview from Memphis. "Sometimes I'd take it out of savings and other times she stood there while I cashed a check and gave her the money. She always asked for it a little at a time," Dr. Davis said.
Dr. Davis and Margaret Medders began traveling together last spring, quite often stopping in one place for several weeks. One of the first places they lodged was the posh Fairmont Hotel in Dallas. "We stayed there for several weeks," Dr. Davis said, "and every day Margaret ordered at least two meals from room service. I wanted to go out and eat, but she always wanted to eat in the room."
Although now Fairmont general manager Julian Abio declines to talk about the Medders affair, earlier Abio told reporters that Mrs. Medders had left Fairmont with a $5,000 hot check and a $1,500 telephone bill, plus additional room charges. The Dallas County theft indictment stems from the Fairmont bills.
Dr. Davis said she spent part of the six-month trip staying in a rented house 15 miles from Brownsville, Tex., where Margaret Medders left her "while she went to Europe," Dr. Davis said. Later they stayed in a Denton, Tex., Holiday Inn for much of August and September of 1976, running up a $2,500 bill, which was confirmed as unpaid by motel manager Jim Horn. "That's where I finally got away from Mrs. Medders," Dr. Davis said. "I had very little money left, and a man picked me up and drove me to the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, where I caught a plane back to Memphis. By the time I got home I had about $15 left to my name."
Dr. Davis says she has reopened her medical practice in her Memphis home, hoping to make enough money to pay off a number of debts, including many she says were charged to her by Margaret Medders. "When I first got back here," Dr. Davis explained, "I couldn't even get a telephone because Mrs. Medders had charged $4,000 in long-distance calls to my home."
"I'd like to see her brought back here for trial," Dr. Davis said. "She took everything I have except my house. I was so dumb and so gullible."
Margaret Medders is nowhere to be found. Les Boxer, a Beverly HIlls, Calif., attorney, represented Mrs. Medders last fall after she was charged with credit card fraud, a charge that later was dropped by a Torrance, Calif., prosecutor, Boxer failed to answer four telephone inquiries seeking Mrs. Medders' explanation of recent happenings.
Finding a logical explaination for Mrs. Medders' latest splurge is extremely difficult. No one seems to know her very well. Mrs. Medders is often described as garrulous and given to overstatement. One person who did know her reasonably well is Edward Marcus, former board chairman of Neiman-Marcus. Mrs. Medders spoke to Marcus in his seventh-floor Neiman's office one day in late 1966 in a conversation that quickly alerted Neiman's to the impending collapse of Medders' spendthrifty 1960s lifestyle, which included purchases at Neiman's averaging about $5,000 a month.
"The Medders began falling behind on their payments," Marcus said recently, "and our credit department asked me to talk to her. Margaret came into my office one day, sat down and I asked her if we could talk frankly. She said we could," Marcus continued.
"Margaret, where does all the money come from?" Marcus said he, asked her.
"Some of it comes from my side of the family," she replied, "but the real money is on Ernest's side."
"How much?" Marcus asked.
"Five billion dollars," she answered.
Marcus said that "When I heard her say billion, I knew we were in trouble."
At the time the Medders owed Neiman's $330,000, which the store quickly moved to recover. The store stopped delivery of a $75,000 mink coat, then called in a Neiman's diamond neckklace containing 77 pear-shaped diamonds totaling more than 52 carats for cleaning. Neiman's never returned the necklace. Even so, Neiman's suffered a $150,000 charge account loss, which former Neiman's president Stanley Marcus described as the largest credit loss in the store's 69-year history.
The Medders' opulent '60s lifestyle turned out to be a fantasy that Texans will be taking about for years to come. If ever anyone needed to prove that by flashing enough wealth, one can make it in high society, Margaret and Ernest Medders proved it beyond a doubt.
In 1962 Margaret and Ernest Medders moved to Muenster, Tex., from Memphis, where she had been a practical nurse and he had been unemployed because of a leg disability that had forced him to retire from his job as a mechanic's helper. They bought a 185-acre farm at the edge of Muenster, a 77-year-old German settlement that today has a population of 1,500.
Muenster is 12 miles west of the interstate highway stretching between Dallas and Oklahoma City, and is a typical out-of-the-way, one-water tower Texas town. Muenster is heavily Catholic and its appearance is dominated by a large Catholic Church and school. The town thrives on cattle and dairy farming, plus some oil production. Muenster boasts a cheese factory, two lumber yards, three auto dealers and a hospital, Muenster Memorial, where Dallas Cowboys' team physician Dr. Marvin Knight conducts his orthopedic medical practice.
Muenster had never seen anything like the Medderses before and quite likely will never see anything like them again. The Medderses bought the farm with money loaned to them by the Poor Sisters of St. Francis Seraph of Mishawaka, Ind. Evidently the Poor Sisters granted the loan believing that Ernest Medders was on the verge of inheriting part of a vast Spindletop Oil fortune, as result of a one-in-a-million shot lawsuit filed in 1961 on behalf of Medders and 3,000 relatives. The suit sought title to the part of the Spindle top land, which in 1901 produced America's first oil gusher. The suit was dismissed in 1965.
Except for Ernest's Social Security benefits, the Medderses had no income of their own, but they built a 28-room house and extended their land holdings to 1,400 acres, using continuing loans from the Poor Sisters and commercial banks. They named their farm "Colonial Acres," which fancifully became known in Texas as "Baghdad on the Prairie." The pastures were filled with prize-winning purebred Angus cattle and Appaloosa horses, which occupied Ernest's time, while Margaret busied herself throwing some of the most spectacular parties Texas had ever seen.
The parties were sometimes held in the Medders' barn, a metal structure about two-thirds the size of a football field, which Ernest used to show his cattle. For parties a portable wooden floor was laid out so guests wouldn't have to dance on a floor of dirt and straw.
The most spectacular party ever thrown at the Medderses" occurred Tuesday evening, Nov. 24, 1965, when 800 guests attended their "barn-warming." The guests arrived by chartered buses from Dallas, 85 miles south, and by private aircraft in Gainesville, 12 miles east. Air passangers were ferried from Gainesville in a helicopter by a tuxedo-clad pilot.
"The barn was so sensational that party-goers forgot they hadn't even seen the house," said Val Imm, former society writer for The Dallas Times Herald. "The barn party was such a corny idea that it was tittilating," she said. "I bet no one there even knew the Medders at the time but the '60s in Texas was such a go-go, opulent time people would do most anything. Nowadays I doubt that social unkowns could draw that kind of crowd."
The black-tie party goers were well-fed by the Medders, who provided 250 pounds of roast beef, 320 pounds of turkey and 160 pounds of ham, plus 2,000 hors d'oeuvres and champagne bubbling from specially created fountains.Music was played by Guy Lombardo's Royal Canadians, minus Lombardo, who was in a Houston hospital.
"I don't think anyone ever cut such a wide swath in Texas society in such a short time," Imm said. "It proves that in this world you can buy anything if you have enough money."
The Medders spent thousands of dollars on a number of other well-attended parties, including one on New Year's Day in which students from two Dallas private schools, where the Medders children were enrolled, rode a specially-chartered six-coach Santa Fe train up to Muenster dancing all the way to live combo music. Many a distinguished guest visited the Medders home at tome time or another including former Texas Gov. John Connally, columnist Jeane Dixon and Maria von Trapp, subject of the "Sound of Music."
Perhaps the highlight of the Medders' social climbing came one evening in Washington when they attended a private White House dinner, as former Texas Rep. Graham Purcell remembers.
"The Medders had been invited to Washington and I wanted to do something nice for them because they were from my district," he said. "I took them to a reception at the Mexican Embassy where I introduced them to Secretary of State Dean Rusk. The Secretary was also attending the White House dinner so he offered the Medders a ride to the White House in his limousine. I declined, saying that I would drive them to the White House front gate myself.
"I left the embassy to get my Ford station wagon," Purcell said, "but by the time I returned I saw the Medders climbing into Dean Rusk's limousine along with the Secretary and his wife. Ernest sat down in the right rear seat, which under American protocol is reserved for the senior official. Margaret sat down in the left rear seat. Secretary and Mrs. Rusk rode on the jump seats facing Ernest and Margaret Medders.
"I followed them to the White House," Purcell continued, "where the Rusk limousine pulled up under the portico while I stood watching from outside the Pennsylvania Avenue gate. They all climbed out of the limousine and Dean Rusk escorted the Medders into the White House. Man alive, if it isn't a long way from a Memphis housing project to a Secretary of State escort to the White House."
Ernest Medders was painfully shy and always felt awkward in a crowd. "He told me that he left all the socializing to Margaret," said Imm. "I used to speak to him at parties because often no one else did."
Purcell described Ernest Medders as about 6-feet-2 and "fortunate," Purcell says, "because when he dressed up the good Lord made him look like a wealthy Texas cowman. Ernest had the good sense to keep his mouth shut most of the time. Apparently he knew he couldn't carry on much of a conversation. He was one of those 'yep' and 'nope' men. Margaret did the talking."
Occasionally Ernest's reticence could be taxing, as it was for one aggressive Neiman-Marcus jewelry salesman who was trying to make friends with Ernest.
One day the salesman drove up to Muenster to become better acquainted with Ernest, in hopes that Ernest would persuade Margaret to buy a very expensive item of jewelry. They sat on a dock and fished all day, but Ernest barely said a word. Undaunted, the Neiman salesman returned another day, this time throwing up the hood of his car and asking Ernest, a former mechanic's helper, what might be wrong with the auto. Ernest spent the day chattering away from under the salesman's car and the friendship was made.
The Medders' bubble of borrowed money was punctured in late 1966, when envious relatives filed a lawsuit to discover where all the money was coming from. Panicky creditors heard about the suit and swoomped down on the Medders, led by Neiman-Marcus and banks in Memphis, Muenster and Wichita Falls, Tex. Ernest later testified that all of the money was borrowed and conceded that he didn't expect any sort of inheritance.
The Medders were forced into bankruptcy in early 1967 and by May 1967 the Medders barn hosted its last big affair - the auctioning of the Medders estate. Eight hundred creditors had to settle for a fraction of their claims. The Poor Sisters never pressed their $2 million loan, because they said, "the Medders had acted in good faith."
With Margaret Medders' latest exploits, she again is the topic of conversation in Muenster, and the subject of questions seeking the latest news about her. Mayor David Bright said at least until recently "Muensterites looked upon the whole Medders affair with some lightheartedness and even with a little sympathy." Muenster Enterprise editor R. N. Fette said, "I guess the Medders really believed they had money coming so they lived on credit. Lots of us live on credit, you know."
Others are amused but still remember how much the Medders owe them. Nick Miller, a dry cleaner, said they were very good customers but still owe him about $200. Joe Trachta, an 88-year-odl drug store owner, said Mrs. Medders still "owes me $100 but I'm lucky, she left owing the liquor stores a lot more than that." Muenster merchants chuckle at the thought of ever collecting the unpaid accounts.
Among the biggest losers are Mrs. Medders' seven children - three from her first marriage and four by her marriage to Ernest. Today they range in age from 22 to 36 and live in a number of different cities. Recently one of them described the past few months as "embarrassing and humiliating for all of us. We don't want any involvement with this thing."
The Dallas County District Attorney will wait until Margaret Medders turns up, then pursue a theft conviction, which could turn out to be a very serious matter if she is convicted. Margaret Medders was found guilty by a Texas jury in 1967 of writing a worthless check and was handed a five-year probated sentence. A Texas judge may not be so lenient again.
And one other matter remains unsettled. Ernest Medders died of a heart attack at a Brownsville, Tex., country club in November, 1975, shortly before Margaret Medders began her second free-wheeling lifestyle. He was buried in Sacred Heart Cemetery in Muenster before only a handful of mourners, a stark contrast to the hundreds of wealthy socialities who had once visited Colonial Acres.
Shortly after the funeral Margaret Medders walked into Richard's Monument Co. in nearby Gainesville and ordered an $850 tombstone for Ernest's grave. Owner John Richards recalled the day well. "She gave me $350 cash and wrote a $500 check. We didn't engrave the monument because her check bounced. I always thought that one day she's come back and make the check good but she never did."
Today the only monument memorializing the life of Ernest Medders is a tiny, hand-engraved, metal identification marker staked a few inches above Ernest Medders' hilltop grave. The marker rests about a mile from another hilltop where Ernest Medders' fabulous dream, Colonial Acres, still stands.